Clearing the airwaves 

8 April 2008 tbs.pm/880

Heart and Galaxy local shows cut

How local should ‘local radio’ be?

The problem is that there’s no straight answer, despite Global Radio chief executive Ashley Tabor assuring us otherwise. He points out that the Global strategy is to offer a “national proposition” to advertisers, but you can equally do that with a string of reasonably disparate local radio stations (duplication and format issues notwithstanding).

As for the claim that “It will be national at the right time of day and local at the right time of day, offering people local programming when they really want it”, then what happens if you have to travel somewhere urgently during a “networked slot” and require local information beyond what your satellite navigation system might (or might not) offer you?

Or alternatively you may never listen to the radio during the daytime but still appreciate local news and gossip at other times; local radio can be so much more than just a local-sounding voice. Being “quasi-national” in this case means being local at times when Global Radio thinks the bulk of the audience wants it but maybe not when YOU want it.

As for the subject of local presenters, again there isn’t an easy answer. One presenter was sacked from a local station (one of a group of stations) for allegedly being “too local” but then moved on to found a successful and popular community radio station that trades on having a strong local character.

Plus of course there was the recent charade of GCap (now part of Global of course) dropping daytime presenters altogether from its XFM stations before reinstating them, and (regardless of the ultimate intention) at least proves that presenters are only one part of the radio equation.

So it all depends what radio station management wants from its ‘local’ radio station(s), namely either trying to sound like a bad national radio station clone (all too common, sadly) or sounding like a true local station instead, with strong local community involvement and a very individual-sounding playlist.

Therefore it’s perhaps understandable that judging from Ashley Tabor’s comments Global Radio is trying to avoid the “bad national station clone” comparisons for its local stations but there again you could always try and sound truly local instead. (But perhaps nearly impossible to achieve with accountants breathing down your neck.)

Then there’s the subject of presenters. Being merely competent as a local radio presenter ultimately requires a degree of natural aptitude (granted) but practice is much more important and isn’t rocket science unless you plan to be one of the small number of “superstar DJ’s” that work at Radio 1 or for the largest commercial radio stations.

Cutting back on local presenter slots may make parts of your “quasi-national” behemoth sound a bit more professional, but it also cuts back on jobs and work experience within the local radio industry. How many potential “superstar DJ’s” will be denied a foothold within the radio industry through fewer industry opportunities?

Good local radio stations used to pride themselves on their involvement with local community projects and giving local people their ‘voice’, but in recent years this has been lost in the quest to play the same Robbie Williams, Mika, Fleetwood Mac and other AOR favourites on heavy rotation, namely those perceived to be the most popular bland.

There’s no getting away from the fact that making a radio station quasi-national makes it less local as a consequence, although this strategy has ultimately derived from a large radio group’s desire to have a national music radio station along the lines of BBC Radio 2, no matter what Ashley Tabor and other radio industry executives may say in public.